This is the time of year to assess your yard and its needs prior to summer stressors, then make changes to help plants cope as you perk up your landscape.
May is the perfect time to do some of the fun stuff in your yard and, maybe, some not so fun stuff. It’s a good time to check your landscape, take out plants that aren’t doing well, divide and move plants as needed, and incorporate soil amendments to provide nutrients during the rest of the growing season. Plus, of course, plant new shrubs, flowers and trees.
Getting new plantings off to a good start, however, is crucial to their later success.
“Root establishment is key,” says Ryan Mims, owner and operator of Tower Hill Nursery, about installing new plants. “Roots are like a human heart. If it’s not healthy, the plant won’t be healthy.”
Start your summer prep by improving soil and being mindful of watering needs, which are directly affected by soil composition. Many, many, many homes in Marion County are constructed on builder’s sand, which, as you might surmise by the term is not soil, and is just not healthy for plants.
Mims recommends incorporating soil amendments—such as compost, manure mixes and fresh garden soil—before settling a plant in a new hole. First, dig a hole at least twice as large as the plant’s root ball, then loosen the soil and mix in the elements. Then place the new plant, fill in the amended soil (carefully retaining the root ball but gently stretching out the roots) and water in well. Most landscape plants do well with deep watering that encourages roots to reach down and out, especially for the first month.
This is also a good time to try new varieties of plants. Mims especially likes the trend of using “texture and color, different combinations of plants that accent a yard.”
“Things like dwarf loropetalums, the Cerise charms,” he offers. “I like the Blue My Mind, which is a perennial ground cover, and Super Blue liriope and Victoria blue salvias.”
Mims especially likes educating customers about plants that “work in our area, that have a better success rate. Like pentas, that endure the cold weather and come back.”
Pentas are known for being especially heat tolerant in our area and have the added benefit of attracting butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. There are new dwarf varieties, or you can let them grow up and sprawl in a butterfly garden area. They come in pinks, reds, lilacs and whites.
“There’s a proper place for everything,” Mims advises. “Microclimates are really important. Your concrete block house, the positioning of the plant, are all factors,” that affect a plant’s life.
And don’t shy away from an exotic tropical, Mims advises.
“If you really love that plant and want it in your life, get a decorative pot and position it so you can see it and enjoy it,” he explains. “You don’t have to necessarily rule out a plant in this area, but you do need to accommodate it.”
Even the protection of a screen pool enclosure, for example, will help add humidity and warmth to an outdoor environment.
Many newcomers to Florida will buy a common hibiscus, which will typically die back in winter but return in the spring. Instead of planting them in the ground, Mims suggests putting more tender, tropical-style plants in a pot that can be moved, either manually or mounted on casters to roll into a garage or enclosed patio.
Some of the best landscape shrubs to consider for Marion County, according to Mims, are “burfordii holly, sunshine ligustrum, loropetalum; Indian hawthorn is a good one, too. Illex is a good, a hardy evergreen. And I like wintergreen boxwood, which is a little different from the classic Japanese boxwood. They’re evergreen and cold hardy.”
A visit to Tower Hill Nursery might include a greeting from Kitty Kitty, a gray cat who was adopted by the staff at the landscape center. She marches right up to customers and enjoys being petted. You can also check out the newly painted bull statue that once stood at the corner of Northwest 80th Avenue and US Highway 27 at the Horse & Hounds restaurant. It now sports a flowery necklace and stands among trees, a pond, vines and sunflowers, and is charmingly decorated in the blues and greens and landscapes that say Ocala and Marion County.
So get out in your yard before the scorching summer temps and high humidity take away your will to garden and get new plants established so you can enjoy them during the seasons to come. OS
A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at firstname.lastname@example.org